Here is the full FBI surveillance tape from the Abscam investigation, dated January 7, 1980. That’s Representative Murtha on the couch. Scroll forward to about 12:00 on the tape and listen until about 18:35. (The most dramatic part is toward the end of that segment.)
The question is not whether the Congressman committed a felony; there’s some doubt about that. The questions are: What is Mr. Murtha doing in that townhouse? What’s his view of his job? What does he consider an appropriate “deal”? How does he comport himself as a Member of the United States Congress and a representative from Pennsylvania?
There should not be any possibility that Mr. Murtha could be elected or even considered as Majority Leader. That would be a strategic disaster for the Democrats. We’ve been debating whether the Party should emphasize Republican corruption over the next two years, or concentrate on passing social legislation. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the issue might become Democratic corruption. But that is highly likely if the Democrats elect an Abscam congressman as their Leader and appoint an impeached federal judge to chair the Intelligence Committee.
You might say: That’s not fair, because the problem was never a few bad apples on the Republican side. The problem was systematic corporate influence, as represented by the K Street Project. However, Democratic candidates certainly featured Republican “bad apples” in their campaign commercials; and turnabout is fair play. The last thing the Dems need to do is elect their own bad apples to leadership positions. Besides, they are by no means immune to systematic corporate influence when they have power.
Beyond partisan strategy, of course, there is a fundamental question of ethics. I’d consider forgiving Mr. Murtha if he had showed evidence of contrition and had spent the last 25 years fighting for reform. Far from it. He now claims that showing the Abscam video is a “Swift Boat attack.” The question should be whether the Democrats admit him to their caucus, not whether they make him Leader.